By now you may have heard about the U.S. Federal Trade Commission seeking to restrict gift-giving to bloggers—or at least require full disclosure about what they’ve received. Although this doesn’t (I don’t think!) apply to Canada, I just had to comment.
First, don’t get me wrong—I have no problem telling anyone who reads this blog that my credit cards haven’t gotten any action in the beauty boutiques of Shoppers Drug Mart or Holt Renfrew in YEARS. Since I’ve worked as a magazine beauty writer and editor for the past five years, beauty publicists send me news (and free samples) whenever they launch new products. Sometimes I write magazine articles about them; sometimes I blog; sometimes both. I hope it’s clear that I don’t blog FOR the free products, since most of the the time, I’m receiving them anyway because of my day job.
Which is why I think it’s a bit rich asking bloggers to fess up about their freebies when magazine editors do no such thing. In my time at ELLE Canada, I was on the receiving end of some pretty AMAZING freebies, but in New York, it’s a whole other stratosphere. I just came across this post from Casey Culture, a blog I sometimes follow that’s written by an ex-beauty publicist in NYC, and thought I’d share her unique insight:
“As someone whose current job is to work with social media and whose job for the past two years has been to work with traditional press, I think this is pretty ridiculous. I understand the desire for full disclosure, but why should a blogger have to write that a company sent them a product for review when magazine editors receive insane amounts of free products and never include a mention in their publications?
The Federal Trade Commission says that this move is “an effort to apply the same rules that already cover broadcast stations, newspapers and magazines to the Wild West marketplace of the World Wide Web.” But that’s just not the case.
On top of receiving a never ending supply of free products ranging from $5-$1,000 and then claiming “oops, I can’t seem to find the $300 eye cream you just sent over – can you send another” [Ed: I've actually done this—and not on purpose. Sorry, beauty publicists!], they are also gifted luxurious extravagances that you and I can only dream of. This used to be my job….to come up with gift ideas for editors to bribe them ensure they featured my clients in their glossy pages.
Heaven forbid you send an editor just a product sample and press release. No, no. Then it wouldn’t “stand out”. [Ed: Oh dear, I'm guilty of this too...] During my time as a traditional beauty PR publicist/professional briber/sucker-upper, I gifted the following products to editors:
- Their choice of Jimmy Choo shoes
- Cartier Love bracelet
- Balenciaga wallet (remember?)
- Wii and Wii Fit (remember how I had to stand in line at the crack of dawn?)
- Hanky Pankies up the wazoo
- Global trips
- Apple iPhone
- Designer jeans
- The list goes on…
Sadly, most of my clients didn’t even have big budgets. Just imagine what the bigger brands give as gifts….er, don’t. It will get you angry.
So do I think bloggers, who sometimes receive product in order to write an honest, real person review, should have to disclose where the product came from? Only if editors have to start disclosing all the gifts they receive that sway what ends up in the magazine, along with a * next to each “best of the best” product pick that’s really just an advertiser.”
And that, my friends, is why the blog medium is best for completely honest product reviews. Sure, magazines do a great job of communicating the trends and delivering advice from the top experts… but you better believe there’s a conscious effort to make sure advertisers’ products are included each month—regardless of how good they are. It’s just something to be aware of.
Anyway, I hope that explains my position on gifting—and that you’ll keep reading, freebies or not.
UPDATE: The Cut agrees: “People deserve to know when anyone is endorsing something simply because it’s free. But what about print publications? They may borrow clothes and send them back (though not even every article of clothing is returned), but that’s not the case for beauty products, which companies send to bloggers with no expectation that they’ll come back. (What would they do? Send them out again? “Dear Marie Claire, Enclosed is a jar of our BRAND NEW MOISTURIZER containing REAL PEARL SHAVINGS and THE BLOOD OF SEAHORSES that Vogue and Elle editors have already sampled. Thought you might enjoy a third go at it! Cheers, YOUTHFUL LOTIONS OF THE SEA.”)”